It was lunchtime on Friday 29th October when ten women from the Paros Int’l Women’s Group embarked on their quest to meet IWOS - the Int’l Women’s Organization of Santorini. Silvia Lubitz held the group boat ticket for us - an excellent incentive for not getting lost! We boarded the Santorini Express in high spirits, as for some it was the first time off-island in a long while, plus we left work, home, family and associated stresses behind us. The journey, with brief stops at Naxos and Ios, passed quickly, and soon we sighted the caldera and marvelled at the spectacular landscape which greeted us as we entered the harbour.
Ingrid Sigelaki, who lived on Santorini for five years before coming to Paros, had arranged for hire cars to meet us at the port. We were whisked up the steep, winding road to the top of the cliff and to the car hire office where Mary Godfrey and Lela Tsigonia generously offered to be our chauffeurs for the next two days.
We moved into our “base” - Apartments Loizos in Fira - organized for us by Silvia at a bargain price and then ventured out on the town: a delicious dinner of local food at the traditional Nikolaos Taverna in Fira, followed by the Vithos Café Bar in the main Plateia for coffee and cocktails.
On Saturday, Silvia and her mother Rosemary got up early and prepared a banquet of a breakfast for us - homemade German breads, German coffee, cheeses and jams - a great start to the day and much appreciated. Fortified by this feast, we took a short walk up to look at the stunning view over the caldera and Ingrid gave us a fascinating explanation of the history of Santorini’s volcanic activity, as well as the inevitability of future seismic events.
Next stop on our itinerary was Akrotiri, where Lily, a specialist guide, took us through the streets of this incredible ancient city.
Akrotiri was a booming Bronze Age port, buried in volcanic ash following the massive volcanic eruption of 1450 BC, which it is believed was responsible for the destruction of the Minoan civilisation in Crete. Excavations in Akrotiri began just over 30 years ago and have still only unearthed around one thirtieth of the whole. Our guide painted a picture of a bustling town with small one-storey dwellings for the poorer citizens on one side of the river, and much larger two- or three- storey houses for the elite on the other. The buildings had water pipes and some, where cloth was produced, had particularly large windows to allow in plenty of light. Exquisite wall paintings depict an advanced culture where the ladies wore rouge and jewellery and fine clothes of dyed Egyptian cotton. A most salutary fact was that the archaeologists found the remains of around 500 plant species which are quite unknown today and which had been stored in some of the amphora in the town.
The people of Akrotiri had the knowledge and skills to build superior ships with keels and so were well travelled. This enabled them to save themselves and their valuables by leaving when the severity of the earthquakes they were experiencing was realised to be a warning of the terrible event to come.
We left Akrotiri fascinated by the knowledge we had absorbed and adjourned for lunch at ‘Ta Delphina’ at Akrotiri Beach.
Our next stop was to meet our Santorini ‘sisters’ at the Antoniou family-run winery where they had arranged for a tour, film and wine tasting. Afterwards, we ate at the Zorbas Mexican restaurant and enjoyed a wonderful evening - none of us had ever seen so much Mexican food. The owner, a lady from Colorado USA, provided everything from guacamole and Buffalo hot wings, to tortillas and savoury burritos followed by a fantastic apple and pear dessert topped with cream.
Along with the delicious meal, we had the chance to chat and get to know our new-found friends. Silvia spoke to the group as a whole, giving them a synopsis of our activities to date on Paros, and Ann Marie Gratsia, President of the Santorini group, told us something of their organisation. What we found was that, unlike us, they are an officially affiliated ‘syllogos’ (modelled on AWOG - the American Women’s Organization of Greece) and have been together for one year, working very successfully as fund-raisers amongst other things for an asthma machine for their health centre. Also, they manage to include Greek women as members, which helps in the cultural exchange of ideas. We, on the other hand, are at the end of our second year, purposefully have no formal heirarchical structure, and have been more focused on education, getting to know each other and acting as a support group.
Our last day was spent with a short excursion to Oia, when once again Ingrid acted as a superb tour guide. Then lunch at Taverna Lava owned by Janis at Perissa, where we again met some of the Santorini ladies and had the chance to exchange a few more ideas. Soon it was time to catch the evening boat back home to Paros - tired but fulfilled after a rewarding weekend.
We left with a lot of valuable food for thought (as well as Mexican left-overs!) and the promise that our new friends would visit us in the Spring.